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Why Volunteer? It's All About Relationship-Building

Posted on 02-01-2011
Why Volunteer? It's All About Relationship-Building

Does it make sense to carve out time for volunteer work when you already feel there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done? I say yes!

Volunteering is relationship-building, and it has benefits for your professional and personal life. Do it to set yourself apart, to make connections you wouldn’t otherwise make, and to let others see you in action outside the office. By contributing your unique talents to a worthwhile cause, you can enrich the lives of others as well as your own.

Self-inventory: What special skills and passions do you have? Do you want to be a leader or part of a team? What types of people and organizations does your practice work with best? Do you already have a personal connection to a particular cause?

Be strategic and proactive: Put some thought into your volunteering approach. Look for an organization with needs that match your abilities and passions. Take time to learn who the leaders are, and what businesses support or sponsor the organization. Look for unmet needs, too, because these may present an opportunity for you to present solutions that no one else provides. This strategy can work whether you are part of a large practice or a one-person business.

It’s not about you: Approach volunteering with an attitude of serving, not selling. When you meet people in a volunteer setting, there is a sense of shared purpose. You may get a chance to talk about what you do, but this isn’t the place to sell. You’ll want to listen more than you talk. When you become visible and trusted in a volunteer role, the less selling you’ll need to do when opportunities arise. People will refer business to you even if they are not clients themselves. Prospective employees will seek you out.

Keep your balance: We’ve all seen people who get so immersed in a volunteer project that it interferes with their work and personal lives, so you’ll want to enter into any volunteer role with a clear idea of what’s expected of you. Make sure you ask how much time it will take to fulfill your duties. If you can’t make a time commitment for a year-long board role, for example, help with a one-time event that has a defined start and end date. Offer to do a presentation to a small group of organization leaders. Even if your practice doesn’t have a budget for charitable contributions, you can help round up sponsors for a fundraiser or donations for a silent auction.

Follow through: Keep your volunteer commitments with the same professionalism you provide your clients. Volunteer leaders struggle to keep volunteers engaged. Volunteers may show up once, then disappear or make promises they fail to keep. Don’t be one of them.

Add value: When the groups you support do something noteworthy, help them get the word out. This could be as simple as including their news in your existing customer newsletter or linking to it from your website or other social media.

Here’s an example of a blog posting by one of our directors who is actively engaged with Houston’s Rice University and the Rice Business Plan competition:

Rice University Graduate Entrepreneurship Program Ranked No. 5 in the US

Great news! Rice University has been named the number five for Graduate Entrepreneurship Programs by the Princeton Review and Entrepreneur Magazine. This year they jumped from 16 to five. That’s 11 spots! I’ve posted their press release below. Congratulations!

How to Start: Too often, we don’t know where to start when it comes to volunteering our time. Do you choose your passion or the greatest need? Consider these alternatives, and scan your business community’sevents calendars for other volunteer opportunities.

  • Chambers of Commerce 
  • Economic Development Groups
  • Convention and Visitors Bureaus (Destination Marketing Organizations)
  • Professional Associations
  • University Foundations
  • Research Foundations
  • Alumni Associations
  • Minority Business Associations
  • United Way Organizations
  • Health-related Nonprofit Groups
  • Environmental and Green Causes
  • Small Business Development Groups
  • Speakers’ Bureaus

Keep it going: You can extend the value of your volunteer efforts by telling employees, customers, prospects and the business community how you are serving and why. By making time to engage with the community beyond your office walls, you will find your own life enriched, while helping your practice become more visible, trusted and top-of-mind when your professional expertise is needed.